Friday, September 14, 2007

Racial Statistics

The National Assembly's Law Committee has approved an amendment to the pending immigration bill that will allow the collection of statistics about race and ethnicity in France. The measure cuts across the left-right divide. Among those approving a strictly regulated collection of statistics is Socialist Manuel Valls, but he wants the measure removed from the immigration bill and subjected to further parliamentary scrutiny.

During the campaign, Ségolène Royal expressed serious reservations about such a measure, which she said could lead to the compilation "of files on citizens contrary to republican values." The reticence is comprehensible, but it seems excessive. With integration of minorities one of the crucial issues of the day, information about their distribution, income, living conditions, success in school, etc., is indispensable. From there to the dread fichage is a long step indeed.

The Art of Politics

Le Monde has a little piece today on Sarkozy's agenda--not "agenda" in the grand sense of a political program but "agenda" in the quotidian sense of calendar of daily activities. He revises it every day in an 8:30 meeting with advisors, which seems much like the daily editorial meeting of a newspaper or television news operation. What's hot? What topics are likely to be on the evening news? What events of the past 24 hours might be pushed onto the evening news with a presidential fillip?

"He could have been a great managing editor," a close collaborator says of him. Jacques Pilhan, who advised both Mitterrand and Chirac on press relations, favored keeping "the presidential word" scarce, to enhance its value presumably. Catherine Pégard, who advises Sarkozy, says, "The Pilhan dogma no longer corresponds to today's reality."

It would be easy to be cynical about this focus on communication, on monopolizing the airwaves, on being ubiquitous. Yet there's no denying that mastery in this realm has become an essential part of the art of politics. That the ability to dominate the mass media can be used cynically and destructively is beyond doubt, but it can also serve to overcome the affliction that Truman foresaw would bedevil Eisenhower. "Ike is a military man," Truman said, "a general used to giving orders. But in the White House he'll find out that he'll give an order and nothing will happen." According to Le Monde, Sarko's advisors have taken Truman's lesson to heart: Don't give orders; rather, change the context in which others must work. "When the president speaks beforehand, things go more easily afterward. It gets the conservatives off their duffs" (freely translated: ça fait bouger les conservatismes).

Rolling Along

This blog just recorded its 20,000th "page load." More than 15,000 people have visited since the launch last May, and some 2,000 regular readers have returned more than 200 times, while more than 5,000 have been here at least 50 times. It's good to see that there are anglophones--and even some francophones--interested in reading about French politics in English. "We happy few," I hope.

(ADDENDUM: Astute readers will note some inconsistency in these numbers. This stems from various anomalies in the way StatCounter and GoogleAnalytics keep count. The "returning visitors" are not necessarily unique, nor is every page load counted--a certain time lapse must occur to register a new load. So the number of returning visitors is probably much smaller than 2,000, a few hundred returning many times accounting for a significant share of the total number of page loads. Hence the "happy few" description is probably more accurate than the "happy many" suggested by a commenter. My estimate is that about 200-300 "unique" visitors come to the site every day.)

Danny the Red

Ah, it's good to see that Daniel Cohn-Bendit has lost none of his vinegar. Libé continues for the most part to waste space on futile mini-debates on ill-conceived topics, such as this one between François Rebsamen and Patrick Devedjian on whether political parties should be done away with. But the equally brainless question "Liquidate May '68?" elicits a fine sally from the inevitable and always delightful Danny the Red:

La haine et l’esprit de revanche ne sont jamais porteurs de bons conseils. 1968, c’est fini ! La société a évolué. Les mythes révolutionnaires communistes, libertaires, totalitaires, ou je ne sais quoi encore, se sont effondrés comme des châteaux de cartes. Reste, cependant, l’intuition libératrice de ce mouvement, l’émancipation des individus par l’action collective, résolument ancrée dans l’égalité et l’autonomie de tout un chacun. Dans les débats qui traversent la société française, «l’esprit de Mai» se retrouve chez toutes celles et ceux qui défendent les idées d’autonomie et d’égalité contre le principe d’autorité verticale. Et ce, qu’il s’agisse de la famille, de l’école, des usines ou de la société… Etre fidèle à 68, c’est donc en accepter les défis, en comprendre les erreurs, dont certaines furent fatales, sans pour autant en renier l’esprit. C’est défendre cet espoir de libération et d’autonomie qui nous a tous animés et marqués quoi que l’on pense et fasse aujourd’hui.

One can't say as much for Georges-Marc Benamou's response:

Au fond, la bonne part de Mai 68 aura été la mise en mouvement d’une société assoupie, engoncée. C’est ce même pari qu’en tant qu’écrivain et homme d’action je tente - avec quelques anciens fameux soixante-huitards - aux côtés de Nicolas Sarkozy. Faire bouger la France et ses élites, saisies par cette étrange maladie que Montesquieu «déjà» nommait «La fatigue de la liberté».

As Benamou says, he wasn't there in '68, so he can perhaps be forgiven for confusing the heady feeling he derives from his proximity to presidential power, be it Mitterrand's or Sarkozy's, with the camaraderie that Cohn-Bendit recalls. The latter came to Harvard once to participate in a colloquium in which Alain Juppé also took part, and in one unforgettable passe d'armes between the latter-day Fouquier-Tinville of the right and the irrepressible strawberry-blond Danton, May lived again as simultaneous tragedy and farce.